New Orleans fans, lend me your ears. Here is one of the finest modern recordings ever recorded in the Crescent City. "At The Cross" is a wonderful session of spirituals and blues performed in the style of the cradle of jazz. Starring New Orleans natives Gregg Stafford and Dr. Michael White and a fabulous rhythm section, this record just has it all.
Trumpeter, Gregg Stafford drives the group with tremendous power whether he is blowing an open horn or hiding behind a plunger. Stafford is a study in energy and purity of sound. Like the late Bix, Gregg Stafford is prone to sudden explosions that will knock your socks off. Canal Street Blues and Bugle Call Rag are fine examples of Stafford explosions.
Dr. Michael White has devoted most of his life to preserving the musical heritage of the major New Orleans clarinetists. His fluid style cannot be ignored and his occasional low register vibrato is something that has to be heard, especially on some of the spirituals. Michael White is also an encyclopedia of classic jazz and he spends much of his time preaching the merits of Johnny Dodds to all to his eager students.
The rhythm section is not to be denied. Emil Mark is the banjo player of choice for many New Orleans recording artists and his consistency is legendary. He has worked with The Easy Riders and Sammy Rimington's Mouldy Five as well as with Stafford and White on their earlier recordings. I had not heard drummer Taff Lloyd before and really have no background information on his history. The first audition of this CD told me that I wouldn't need any details as his playing tells the story. Whether swinging wildly or sustaining a lengthy press roll as he does on the funeral dirge "Flee Like a Bird", Taff captures the style with perfection.
When a group like this wants to swing in a hot style, the choice of bassist Colin Bray is almost a foregone conclusion. Colin has been a fixture with The Hot Five Jazzmakers (all six of them) in Toronto since replacing the Australian bassist John Reed many years ago. Colin is another authority on the history of vintage jazz and has assisted and advised broadcaster/ guitarist Jeff Healy on his national jazz radio series in Canada. Bray loves and understands the New Orleans style. I first heard pianist Reide Kaiser when he sat in as intermission pianist at the "C'est What" club in Toronto some years ago. He played a Fat's Waller medley and blew the roof off the little jazz bar turning me into an instant fan. Reide is actually a lawyer in Toronto and God knows that nobody loves a lawyer unless that fellow happens to be a really great stride player. Reide and Colin engage in a beautiful duo track, Fusty Bottom Blues, which was recorded in Toronto by engineer Brian Graville. Brian is also well known Canadian pianist/trumpeter.
The fact that both the Toronto and New Orleans recording engineers understand classic jazz, contributes greatly to the end result on "At The Cross." Richard Bird carried out the engineer's duties in New Orleans.
This is a "high energy" performance in every way. If you must have one example of classic jazz by contemporary musicians, this is the one to get. Highly recommended! It's going to be one of my desert island records.